Politics has pushed COVID-19 coverage further down in the headlines in recent weeks, but the coronavirus hasn’t gone away—and many medical experts predict the pandemic will worsen as temperatures drop in the fall and into the winter. Pizzerias have weathered the storm better than most in the restaurant industry so far, but operators must continue to think ahead and plan for a challenging winter. In this new series of articles, we turned to leading pizzeria operators and chain executives to get their advice on how fellow operators can keep their doors open through the remainder of 2020 and beyond.
Joseph Ciolli, CEO, Grimaldi’s Pizzeria
A Big Apple legend, Grimaldi’s Pizzeria opened its first location in 1990 under the Brooklyn Bridge and since has widened its reach to about a dozen states. Famous for its coal-fired, brick-oven pies, the company launched a national domestic franchise program in April 2019. Like many restaurant companies, Grimaldi’s pivoted to a delivery/carryout model after the pandemic took root in New York but has since reopened for dine-in service. Here, CEO Joseph Ciolli offers words of advice for pizzeria operators who want to stay reopened:
PMQ: Assuming the coronavirus worsens in the fall, what’s the no. 1 smartest move a pizzeria owner can make to keep their doors open, in terms of management and operations?
Joseph Ciolli: This spring, restaurants faced temporary dining room closures due to increased cases of coronavirus, and Grimaldi’s, like so many others, had to scramble to figure out how to shift volume to a model that depended on more delivery and to-go orders. Responsible restaurant operators should already be looking ahead to how they will address a possible rise in cases this fall. Keeping the doors open when permitted is [crucial], so strict adherence to specific protocols in place to ensure that both staff and guests’ safety is the top priority. Fortunately, the infrastructure is now in place to be able to ramp up quickly should certain localities decide to temporarily close dining rooms. Additionally, reassuring staff and guests that you take their safety very seriously—through enforcing your policies and procedures during these trying times—is extremely important.
PMQ: What’s the biggest mistake you’ve seen restaurant operators make during the pandemic?
Ciolli: As restaurant operators, the biggest mistake we have seen during the pandemic is not adapting when necessary, partially because the feedback involves a shift in operational structure. Our excellent customer service and friendly experience is what makes our restaurants feel like home, so we’ve done our best to maintain this experience by constantly evolving to the current situation and making the Grimaldi’s experience as accessible as possible for our guests.
For example, our historic location at 1 Front Street in Brooklyn has never offered delivery, but knowing that our New York guests were missing Grimaldi’s and that we have the ability to offer adapted service models, we brought on three third-party delivery partners. Additionally, when New York opened up patio dining, we created an area for outdoor seating in Brooklyn as a way to welcome guests back to dining with us.
We also know that our annual promotions and LTO seasonal menus are something that our guests look forward to. We’ve been able to continue offering these anticipated events, like May Teacher & Nurse Appreciation Week, our July gift card promotion and our Summer Selections menu featuring Barbecue Chicken Pizza.
PMQ: Assuming the unemployment rate doesn’t improve significantly in the coming months, how can pizzeria owners create a sense of value for their cash-strapped customers?
Ciolli: At Grimaldi’s, we have implemented a series of unique meal deals over the past few months that offer our world-class coal-fired brick-oven pizza, salads, cheesecakes, and even wine at a significantly better value than our a la carte menu. Our current offerings include:
Sweet Deal: One traditional 18” cheese pizza, choice of small house or Caesar salad, and choice of a slice of cheesecake or two mini cannoli for $25 (plus tax)—pick-up only.
Dine-in Deal for 2: One traditional 12” cheese pizza with small house salad and two glasses of Coppola wine with the choice of either Coppola Rosso (red) or Coppola Bianco (white) for $24 (plus tax, price may vary).